Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A disappointing visit to the eye doctor

My glaucoma is essentially unchanged for more than a dozen years now.

Every year or so, however, I have to prove this to the eye doctor by taking a visual field test (yes, I've written about this before -- and here's the follow up to that first 2009 post). Yesterday, it was time for me to go again.

After the visual field test, one of the eye doctor's assistants gives me drops to dilate my pupils so that the eye doctor can more easily shine a bright light in my eyes and better see (he says) my optical nerve. I think he's just punishing me for not needing surgery, but, then again, I'm paranoid.

Unlike on some past occasions, I did not fall asleep during the visual field test.

Because I know I will be dilated, I make these appointments for as late in the day as they'll let me. So I come in tired. And they have to turn the lights down in the examining room so I can see the little flashes of light I'm supposed to track with my clicker thing -- and without moving my eyeball. (They give the test one eye at a time; you get to wear a nifty patch over the other eye.) With my tired head resting on something in a dark, quiet room... is it really surprising that I sometimes doze off?

I didn't want to doze yesterday (it messes up the results and gets the eye doctor all excited about surgery for nothing) so I kept up a steady stream of patter during the exam.
Oh, good, the eye patch. D'yer want me to talk like a pirate now? Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhh.

I don't know why you need this test to see how bad my peripheral vision has gotten. Just ride in the car with me and my wife when I'm driving some time; she'll tell you all about it.
The young lady who administered the visual field test was the one who put the drops in to dilate my eyes. Then she pointed me to a back waiting room where I was to await the doctor. I was looking forward to looking at the New Yorker for awhile until my eyes could no longer focus -- but they had no back issues available yesterday.

It was just as well. The doctor was ready for me sooner than I expected.

A young, pretty resident came out to fetch me in. "I'm Dr. Jones," she said, and I noted that her voice was as lovely as she was. And those were shapely legs in high heels sticking out from under her lab coat, too. I noticed.

The doctor obviously noticed, too.

He's ordinarily a rather brusque man (surgeons generally are). That doesn't bother me as much as it bothers some people, but I do pick up on it -- and I quickly picked up on the fact that, yesterday, he was far more charming and attentive than usual. He shined his bright light in my wide-open eyes, then let the resident take a look, too. He called up my history on the office computer terminal (this is a high tech practice) and showed the younger doctor pictures of my visual field tests going back more than a decade. "Zimmerman," he said, "had the definitive paper on low-tension glaucoma 30 years ago in the Journal of -- well, no, you don't have to look that up. Why don't you just do a review of the literature over the last five years on the subject and we can talk about it when we meet -- Thursday?"

"Oh, no, Doctor, I won't be in Thursday. I'll be in Aspen."

"Aspen? I love Aspen." (Doctors can say things like that; they actually have been to all these places. They can afford to go.) "Why are you going?"

"It's a conference. Women in Ophthalmology."

"Will you be there next week, too? I'm going out there next week." (See what I mean about doctors?)

"Not unless you'll let me be gone from here for two weeks."

"Well, no. Are you going to do any hiking while you're there?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "I signed up for a special woman's hike."

"A special women's hike? What's that?"

I know a set-up line when I hear it. Quickly, I tried to think of possible responses that might work:
[Sexist] It's just like a men's hike except you look at store windows instead of mountains, valleys and trees.

[I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar] It's just like a men's hike, same trails, same distance -- only we do it in heels. No man could hope to survive.

[Hear Me Roar, Part II] It's just like a men's hike only if we lose the trail we can ask for directions on how to get back.
Her actual answer was something about the pace of the hike, but she resisted any temptation she might have had to say something like "we go slower because we actually pay attention to our surroundings."

Soon thereafter, the doctor realized I was still sitting patiently (get it?) in the examination room chair. He had to stop flirting long enough to dismiss me. (By the way, I hasten to add, there was nothing inappropriate or suspicious or creepy about the doctor's flirting. You'd probably not have noticed; I don't know whether the attractive young doctor even realized the doctor was flirting. I only did because I usually see him in brusque surgeon-mode.)

But I said that the visit was disappointing and I haven't explained why (except from the doctor's standpoint since I'm still not a candidate for additional surgery).

It was cloudy and gray in Chicago yesterday; it wanted to rain, but couldn't quite do so while I was out. The gloom suited me fine; it's actually painful to walk out in bright sunlight with dilated pupils. Still, as I walked down the street, mothers, seeing my eyes, pulled their children a little closer. You can't help but look a little crazy when your eyes are like that.

I got home, though, without incident, a little wobbly (being dilated and out of focus affects your balance) and my eyes hurt, but there was nothing seriously wrong. Long Suffering Spouse asked me how things went and I gave her the good news.

Younger Daughter was listening. "But did you ask?"

"Ask about what?" I was genuinely confused. What did she think I was supposed to ask about?

"The medical marijuana, silly."

How disappointing. I did forget to ask.

But Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn still hasn't signed HB1, the newly passed medical marijuana statute. Maybe by my next visit....

Updated and corrected August 1, 2013: Gov. Quinn is expected to sign the bill today. Section 10(h)(1) of the act includes glaucoma among the 'debilitating medical conditions' for which medical marijuana may be prescribed. Well, whaddaya know about that?

Monday, July 29, 2013

How superstitious are you?

As a modern American, I deny being superstitious.

If I don't walk under ladders, well, who knows, there might be a bucket on top that might spill on me. I'll gladly walk under scaffolds, though, especially if it's raining, and isn't that pretty much the same thing?


But there are times when even I -- a modern, rational, skeptical American -- must confess to some seemingly superstitious beliefs.

Case in point: Have you ever had kids win a "goldfish" at a school carnival? It happened to me many times. The kid could win the fish in the first five minutes (they always are put in flimsy baggies) and, yet, somehow, the poor things will survive being shaken, dropped, tossed.... Bring the fish home and put it in an unused vase and it will flourish. It may even grow if you feed it with fish food left over from the last school carnival.

Eventually, though, after the kid becomes attached to the fish -- and these are fish the pet stores keep on hand mostly to feed to turtles more valuable fish -- there will come that moment when you will weaken. You will buy a tank. You will buy a filter. You will buy more food. It doesn't matter what you buy. As soon as you open your wallet, that fish will die.

You may dismiss this as foolish superstition, and I envy you your certitude. But I say this is not superstitious at all, but my actual real-life experience.

Yours too, if you ever let a kid go to a school carnival.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Another example: Some of you may remember I downsized my office when I moved from my Undisclosed Location early last year. The Teeny-Tiny Law Office is in the very same building, just 30 or 35 feet above my old stomping grounds.

In the course of trying to streamline my expenses, I also dropped the paid website that I'd bought for my firm from Martindale-Hubbell. I never got an actual lead from that site anyway (although once I heard from a high school classmate). Most of the stuff I got through that site was sent by people wearing tinfoil beanies. I can get cases equally as good as those proffered by Martindale-Hubbell by contacting the Nigerian generals' widows who still send me emails.

But my old suite number and the old M-H website were both on my business card. So I stopped carrying cards.

In the year and a half since I haven't had cards to give away... which isn't embarrassing, exactly, but some may think it a little... shabby.

I'm looking at my old business card now: Not only does it have the Martindale-Hubbell site on it, but it also has the West site I paid for for a little while -- and far too long. I can't remember when I dropped the West site; in my eagerness to believe, though, I think it must have been shortly after I got these cards printed.

In other words, just like the goldfish, I believe that, just as soon as I spend money on business cards, something will change.

Is that rational?

Perhaps not.

But I picked up new business cards today from the printer, fully realizing something may change tomorrow as a result.

Of course, I'm dumb enough to think that things will change for the better (my "logic" being... well, things can't get any worse, can they?)

Yes, we all know the answer to that one.

But I'm not listening!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New York gets a new scandal, Chicago gets a new alderman

The aptly named Anthony Weiner is so enamored of his male appendage that he continued to send pictures of his manhood to various women in various places (including, apparently, Chicago) even after he was forced to resign from Congress. Now running for Mayor of New York, Weiner wants to stop talking about his package and start talking about his plans for the city. The New York Times would like Weiner to go away, but he is intent on staying in the race, while his wife grimly continues to offer her support.

Who knows? Until these latest revelations, Weiner looked like a winner. His short-term poll numbers will surely take a hit -- even in New York -- but he may yet prevail.

But if he does win... well, hopefully someone will carefully police the 'Welcome to New York' signs that Mayor Weiner may wish to, um, erect. Children, avert your eyes!

New Ald. Deb Mell flanked by Mayor Emanuel and Mell's
wife, Christin Baker. Photo obtained from the Sun-Times.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the 33rd Ward has a new alderman this morning as former Ald. Richard Mell has stepped aside after 38 years in office... only to be replaced by his daughter, Deb. (Deb is vacating her seat in the Illinois House to come home and become an alderman. In Chicago, that's been considered a promotion since before the time of Daley I.)

Wait, you say. Didn't Mayor Emanuel promise that outgoing aldermen would no longer be given the opportunity to hand-pick their successors? Didn't he say that screening committees would be set up to vet future appointments?

He did and there was -- and, if there were those who doubted the outcome of the committee's deliberations, they had to be from out of town.

Way out of town.

Indeed, there are those who are trying (with a straight face) to spin Deb Mell's appointment as progressive and an example of diversity. Deb, you see, is a lesbian. If she'd been Mell's son the good government types would be really all-atwitter over this appointment... instead of just mildly so. Of course, if Deb had been Mell's son, Rod Blagojevich would never have been governor.

Oh, wait. I suppose I have to back up here for the benefit of those who come here from out of town.

Deb has a sister, Patti. Patti married Rod Blagojevich -- and Patti's dad, the newly-retired alderman, helped make Rod a state representative, congressman, and (eventually) governor. (Indirectly, at least, Dick Mell is also responsible for Rod's downfall, breaking so publicly with his son-in-law over the closure of a landfill that he attracted the attention of the Feds.) Now do you remember?

Anyway, my friend Steve says that someday psychiatrists will identify a desire to become involved in politics as a symptom of mental illness -- and maybe as a disorder all its own. Exhibit A for Steve's hypothesis is Mr. Weiner.

But, in Chicago, it's not mental illness.

It's just business as usual.

Family business.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why all this excitement over a "Royal" Baby?

Balding Billy and Bonnie Kate left a London hospital Tuesday with their new Bundle of Joy, a kid who doesn't yet have a name but does have a title, HRH the Prince of Cambridge. If family luck holds, the kid may someday inherit the throne of Great Britain. All he has to do is live long enough. His "job," like his father's and grandfather's, principally involves waiting for other people to die -- and his list includes Dad and Gramps. Am I the only one creeped out by this?

Look, I suppose I'm happy for the young parents, and I can't get upset at the little brat -- it's not his fault he was born. But I just can't muster any enthusiasm for the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling news coverage this blessed event has been given in America.

I mean, if the Brits think that having a Royal family is good for tourism or morale or something, that's their business, and more power to them all. But... seriously... didn't we have a revolution in this country a couple hundred years ago? I thought we'd rejected monarchy in this country -- but the attention lavished on this young couple, living off the British government, makes me wonder.

How about you?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Evolution... or devolution? Of the teaching of evolution and the abandonment of space

Adapted from this post on The Blog of Days.

Image of the final landing of Shuttle Atlantis obtained from NASA.
There are many who would call today Monkey Day because it was on July 21, 1925 that the Scopes trial ended -- with a finding that high school teacher John Scopes had violated Tennessee law by teaching the theory of evolution to his students. Fortunately, we've progressed quite a bit (evolved, you might say) since then: I don't think even Texas has again made it actually illegal to teach evolution in the schools. Of course, there are more than a few states where the teaching of evolution appears to be frowned upon. A 2012 Gallup poll revealed that 46% of Americans believe that God created mankind in our present form -- and somewhere in the last 10,000 years to boot. Maybe we've not evolved as much as some of us would like to think.

And yesterday, July 20, was Moon Day, commemorating mankind's first tentative steps on another world (our own Moon). As mentioned in Friday's post, we gave up on the Moon in 1972 -- haven't been back since. The American Space Shuttle program, which ferried astronauts to and from Low Earth Orbit, was itself abandoned two years ago today, on July 21, 2011, when the Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida at the end of STS-135.

Come to think of it, maybe we should reconsider this evolution thing. We seem to be going backwards....

Friday, July 19, 2013

Another gloomy Moon Day

Cross-posted from The Blog of Days.

It was on July 20, 44 years ago, that a human being first left footprints on a heavenly body other than Earth. Thus, Saturday, July 20 is Moon Day.

It's a bittersweet occasion. Neil Armstrong has passed away since we observed Moon Day 2012 (he died last August 25) and Buzz Aldrin is 83. It is now 41 years and counting since anyone has been to the Moon. Here's the complete list (complete with links to Wikipedia entries on each astronaut and mission):

Name Mission EVA dates
1 Neil Armstrong Apollo 11 July 20, 1969
2 Buzz Aldrin
3 Pete Conrad Apollo 12 November 19-20, 1969
4 Alan Bean
5 Alan Shepard Apollo 14 February 5-6, 1971
6 Edgar Mitchell
7 David Scott Apollo 15 July 31–August 2, 1971
8 James Irwin
9 John W. Young Apollo 16 April 21-23, 1972
10 Charles Duke
11 Eugene Cernan Apollo 17 December 11-14, 1972
12 Harrison Schmitt

In all the years since, we've flown no higher than the International Space Station. Yes, it is a remarkable achievement to build even a small outpost that's technically in Outer Space -- but the ISS is in Low Earth Orbit -- it's just camping in Earth's backyard compared to the wonders that lie before us.

There are two Americans in the six-person crew currently on board the International Space Station (this crew is referred to as Expedition 36). One of these is Karen L. Nyberg, a PhD in mechanical engineering, currently serving as a flight engineer aboard the station. Dr. Nyberg is pictured at right. The other is CDR Christopher J. Cassidy, USN. An Italian and three Russians, including Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov, round out the current crew.

Our astronauts get to and from the space station these days by hitching a ride with the Russians.

Saturday. Moon Day.

What went wrong?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

92 quadrillion reasons to get a PayPal account?

I don't have a PayPal account -- there's no PayPal button on this site, no "digital rice bowl" (as I've heard the PayPal button called) begging for reader support (I like the term "tip jar" better). I don't have a gift shop; there are no Curmudgeon action figures due out in time for Christmas. (In my case, they'd be more like inaction figures, anyway.)

But I may have to rethink this whole PayPal thing. Maybe what happened to Chris Reynolds, a Pennsylvanian who sells car parts online, might happen to me.

The linked article, by Eric Pfieffer of Yahoo! News, appears today on Yahoo's Sideshow blog.

According to Pfieffer, Mr. Reynolds checked his PayPal account recently and discovered a balance of $92,233,720,368,547,800 -- that's $92 quadrillion or, according to the linked article, more than the world's annual gross domestic product. Indeed, $92 quadrillion is such a big number, according to this post on Circa, that it is 1300 times greater than the world GDP (which it puts at a relatively paltry $70.2 trillion). Compared to $92 quadrillion, Circa says, Bill Gates' entire $72.7 billion fortune would be a rounding error.

How large is $92 quadrillion? It's more than 550,000 times more than the national debt, using the national debt figure posted on as a reference ($16,742,208,376,232.88 as of July 17, 2013). According to Wikipedia, there are anywhere from one to ten quadrillion ants on Earth (their total mass equaling that of all humanity, even including that enormous, sweaty guy that always tries to squeeze into the seat next to you on the bus when the weather is hot).

The linked articles (and this related UPI account) suggest that Reynolds found out about his apparent great fortune when he opened up the PayPal statement that came in the mail. When he logged on to his account, however -- just to double check, of course -- I'm sure the thought of immediately transferring any or all of it to his bank account never crossed his mind -- he discovered that his account balance was back to... zero.

Still, Reynolds said, for a moment there, he felt like "a million bucks."

And then some.

So if I ever do put up a PayPal button... it's not that I'm trolling for donations... it's just that I'm checking my account balance every five seconds or so.

Just in case.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Overlawyered: Big Law conducts a case at the Cook County Arbitration Center

This was a post I really wanted to put up under my own name -- arbitration hearings are, technically, open to the public, although observers are rarer than hen's teeth -- I'd be free to name names if I wanted to, but in the end, I couldn't and wouldn't. I want to lampoon the Big Law approach to the presentation of even the smallest case, but I don't wish to be personal about it. It's not the attorneys who are the problem; it's the Big Law/ Big Firm attitude.

As I've probably mentioned here before, I've sat as an arbitrator in Cook County since the mandatory court-annexed system was begun, probably 25 years ago or more. It is the most part-time of part-time jobs. I get called three, maybe four times a year. Assuming I hear three cases each time (that's the normal maximum), I'll rake in $900 or $1,200 in yearly income from this gig. One can not plan a retirement in the South of France on such princely earnings.

We hear cases as three-lawyer panels, one of the lawyers serving as chair. All three panelists get to decide the case at the end of the hearing, haggling over the award to be given, if any, to the extent that haggling is necessary. The chair fills in the award form when the deliberation is done and, during the hearing, rules on any objections the lawyers might make. It's more fun to be chair; I've always enjoyed it, anyway.

The arbitration hearings are not held in the courthouse, but in rented office space in a nearby building. My courthouse pass doesn't get me past security there; I have to wait in line for a building pass with everyone else.

Recently, on a morning when I'd been called to serve, I was in line behind a middle-aged man with a computer bag, a younger man lugging a box full of binders, and a younger woman carrying another bag and a projector screen. Oh, no, I thought... Big Firm Alert.

Like nuns in the days before Vatican II, Big Firm lawyers never travel alone. They look more like unpacked Russian Dolls when they venture out into the wider world -- the Partner carrying his enormous dignity -- the Senior Associate trailing behind, carrying everything else the Partner should be carrying -- the Junior Associate, trailing behind the Senior, carrying what the Senior Associate would have carried had she been allowed to carry her own stuff -- and so on. Depending on the Importance of the outing, there might be a Junior Partner and a several layers of Associates inserted into the procession, according to rules of strict seniority.

Well, I thought to myself, there are a lot of law offices in this building. They don't have to be going up to the Arb Center; maybe they're here for a deposition or something. But it was only 8:00 a.m. Depositions usually take place later in the day. I began to get an uneasy feeling, especially as it became apparent the next two people in line, obvious civilians, were witnesses associated with the Big Law party. The group got ahead of me and, when I didn't see them milling about when I got in line to check in at the Arb Center, I began to relax a little.

You should never relax.

The assistant administrator who was handling arbitrator check-in that day greeted me by name. I've been acquainted with her for years, since she worked in the Circuit Court Clerk's office, and we chatted a little about her health and the weather. She pulled out a folder, which meant that she was going to ask me to chair a panel this morning. "You know, Curmudgeon," she said, "Room X is my favorite room on the floor. Best view. Most natural light. Very spacious."

I was of course instantly suspicious.

"What are you sending me into?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing," she lied. She wouldn't look straight at me. She knew I knew she was up to no good. "Could you chair Room X for me this morning?" I took the folder without looking at the few papers inside.

The floor is level in the Arbitration Center, but I felt as though I were mounting the steps to the scaffold as I trudged in the direction of Room X. I was like the little kid drafted into playing softball with the big kids and stashed in right field where he could cause the least damage. The little kid, in that circumstance, prays ever more fervently, Please, God, don't let them hit it to me. Running through my mind was something similar: Please, God, not the Big Law case.

Someone always hits a fly ball to the little kid in right field (I was that little kid many times; I know) -- and the Big Law case was waiting for me when I walked in. The Senior Associate was trying to set up the computer to project on the screen; the Partner was directing. The young lady (she was a Summer Associate as it turned out) was trying to assist.

"There will be three panelists?" the Partner asked, with seeming innocence. Only there are no innocent questions in Big Law. I said yes and waited for the follow-up. "Three panelists, eh?" said the Partner. "That's just like the Seventh Circuit." There was a momentary pause. "You know," he continued, "I used to clerk for Judge Y. Wonderful man, Judge Y."

And there it was, I marveled, he was letting me know, as subtly as a brick, about his superior credentials. Of course I knew who Judge Y was; Judge Y had served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for many years. But then, Mr. Big Firm Partner inadvertently gave me an opening. "Do we know who the other panelists will be?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "since you're so familiar with the Seventh Circuit, you know that the lawyers there don't know who will hear a case until the panelists come out for the argument." I've got credentials, too, Mr. Big Firm Partner. "Same thing here. I guess in that way we resemble the Seventh Circuit." And only in that way!

Mandatory arbitration hearings here are streamlined by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 90(c). As long as one side (usually the plaintiff) serves the other side with copies of the documents by no later than 30 days before the hearing, all sorts of documents are presumptively admitted by the rule. In fact, one of the reasons why lawyers typically do better at arbitrations of this type than they do at trial has to do with the fact that they get in their medical records and bills without the expense of inconvenience of calling in (or obtaining the evidence deposition of) the treating doctor (or chiropractor). Also, it's really hard to cross-examine the doctor's written report -- the live doctor, however, is far more vulnerable.

Anyway, arbitration hearings begin by asking if the parties have any 90(c) packages for the panel to consider -- and then whether the other side has any objection to that party's 90(c) package. The attorneys will typically have one copy of their 90(c) package for each panelist. Plaintiffs, of course, almost always have a 90(c) package -- the medical records and bills. Defendants almost always don't.

But Big Law was involved in this case. Naturally Big Law had a 90(c) package for its defense client -- and, just as naturally, theirs had three times as many pages as the package submitted by the plaintiff. Now I knew what the box of binders was.

Mr. Big Firm Partner wanted to give me his 90(c) packages before the hearing began. He wanted to give them to me before his opponent even arrived. "No," I told him, "we have to wait until everyone's here."

Eventually, everyone was present and the 90(c)'s were exchanged. I was astounded at how thick the defendant's 90(c) package was -- even though just the "mini" copies of the deposition transcripts were submitted in the 90(c) package -- minis put four pages of the transcript on each single page -- and I began trying to calculate how much the Big Law firm had billed to get the case to this point. A hundred thousand dollars? $200,000? The maximum award that we arbitrators could make was $30,000.... As a once and sometime insurance defense attorney I am quite fond of the saying, "millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute" -- but there is a point where that noble sentiment degenerates into "penny wise and pound foolish." Wherever that point may be, we were far, far beyond it in this case.

And then came time for opening statements.

The case concerned a slip and fall in a store. The elderly plaintiff -- a very nice lady -- was rather rudely pushed by a snot-nosed 11 or 12-year old kid running out of the store as the old lady was trying to come in. The plaintiff lost her balance and toppled to the floor. She knocked down a bar held in place by breakaway guide wires along the way. The whole sorry incident had been captured on a store surveillance tape -- and if that had been all that Big Law wanted to show us at the hearing, I wouldn't be writing this post.

No, Big Law wanted us to see that tape, alright, in real time and in super slo-mo, but also to flash extensive excerpts from party and witness depositions on the screen in conjunction with particular frames of the video and to highlight a detailed exposition of the 'evolution of the plaintiff's pleadings.' The first Complaint, you see, hadn't mentioned the little kid -- clearly evidence of an evil conspiracy to defraud -- notwithstanding the fact that the kid's involvement is reflected in the descriptions of the accident contained in all the different medical records.

You will be pleased to know I did not put my hands on the top of my head and scream uncontrollably. I wanted to, of course, but, instead, I just sustained plaintiff's objection to the 'argumentative' nature of the opening statement. Just like they teach in law school -- even at Harvard, apparently -- in response to the objection that he was arguing the case in an opening statement, Mr. Big Firm Partner began disguising his arguments by saying "the evidence will show." And he went right back into his scholarly analysis of the origins of the pleadings. "Counsel," I asked, "is the current complaint certified? Were any prior complaints certified? No? Then" -- even at Harvard you should know this -- "there are no admissions to be drawn from the earlier pleadings. They're gone. Let's talk about the case that's on file now."

Somehow, we got through the openings. And through the testimony. I kept sustaining all the objections made by the plaintiff's attorney. ("So, Madame Plaintiff, when you filed your original Complaint, isn't it true that you hadn't yet seen the surveillance video?" So who cares?) Mr. Big Firm Partner and I were terribly respectful of each other. I would sustain the objections "with respect" and he would challenge me "with respect." His smile never wavered. But I understood that he meant "with respect" to mean "eat poison and die." But granting her lawyer's objections was the least I could do for the little old lady plaintiff -- no, actually, come to think of it -- it was the most I could do for her.

She had no case.

This was obvious from the surveillance video. The Summer Associate could have presented this case -- before starting law school -- and surely have done a better job than Mr. Big Firm Partner. (All she needed was to play the tape and shrug her shoulders. That would have been enough.) I don't suppose there is a case that you can't lose -- but this was about as close to an un-lose-able case as was ever filed. Still, Big Law seemed determined to try. When it came time for closing arguments, Mr. Big Firm Partner had one more Big Law trick up his sleeve. "Your Honor," he said -- OK, I liked that -- even though, as a mere arbitration panel chair, I have absolutely no right to such a title -- "we have a motion at this time."

"A motion?" I said. "We don't do motions here." (Motions connected with the arbitration are supposed to be resolved before the arbitration judge before the case gets to us.)

"I have a motion for directed verdict," the Partner said. The plaintiff's attorney started to object, but I cut him off. "We don't hear those motions at an arbitration hearing," I told him. "With respect," I added.

"With respect," he responded, "I really want you to hear this one." He fanned a sheaf of papers that he wanted to put before us.

"I assume your motion contains the law you consider applicable in this case, is that right?"

"Yes, Your Honor, it does."

"I tell you what. We can consider memorandums showing what you believe the applicable case law to be. We'll receive it on that basis." The plaintiff's attorney wanted to object again. "We're not hearing it as a motion," I said. "We will proceed now to hear closing arguments."

Sometimes a defendant in an arbitration will suggest an award that the defense can live with (either side can reject an award and proceed to trial in our system -- most of the time -- just by paying an additional fee). It's not a proper argument, but it might be helpful in some cases. And, in any event, the statement is made and counsel will move on quickly enough that no one would object even if they had a mind to. In the middle of his closing argument, however, Mr. Big Firm Partner launched into a chest-pounding spiel about his client's determination to take this case through to trial if need be. He then started in about Medicare liens and how these would make it impossible to settle the case if we made even a de minimus award and -- and eventually the plaintiff's attorney could not any long sit silent. I sustained the objection.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Big Law had finally left the room. Somehow they seemed to have more stuff going out than when they came in. And that was after they'd divested themselves of the mountain of material on our desk. I and my colleagues sat glumly for a couple of minutes with the door finally closed.

"We don't really have a choice," said one.

"But you know what this means?" asked the other. "We give them an award and they will think they did everything right --"

"-- When they did everything wrong."

I looked helplessly at my colleagues. They looked back, equally stricken. We did what the law required.

But not because of anything Big Law did, but, rather, despite everything Big Law did.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do Egyptian Copts face the very model a lose-lose proposition?

Yahoo! News carried this AP report yesterday, "Egypt's Christians face backlash for Morsi ouster."

The article, by Hamza Hendawi, opens with a chilling account of a mob murdering a Christian businessman and his nephew. Reading the article, it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood is blaming Christians for supporting the Army's ouster of President Morsi -- and apparently many Christians were active in anti-Morsi demonstrations. On the other hand, prior to his ouster, some Morsi allies "increasingly spoke of Christians as enemies of Islam and warned them to remember they are a minority" (most accounts suggest that about 10% of the Egyptian population is Christian, though others put the number closer to 20%).

So... the dilemma: Christians would be singled out for persecution under a Muslim Brotherhood regime -- and will be singled out for punishment by Islamists because the Morsi regime has been overthrown. Isn't that the very textbook definition of a lose-lose proposition? A 'choice' between the Devi and deep blue sea?

Of course, the regime wasn't overthrown by Christians -- even if many applauded the ouster, publicly or privately. If Morsi enjoyed the support of a majority of his actual Muslim brothers and sisters (as opposed to the "Muslim Brotherhood" movement) he'd still be in office, however upset the Christians might be.

The good news here is that many Egyptian Muslims aren't wild about the puritan strain of one-size-fits-all Islam being pushed by the Salafists and other Islamists. Without the support of many faithful, observant, believing Muslims, the Army would not have been able to push Morsi out.

As Americans, we are hard-wired to automatically support democracy -- even when the democratically elected leaders turn out to be hostile to American interests. Morsi was elected. Therefore, the simple logic goes, we should be inclined to support him.

But though Morsi was elected by a bare majority, 51.73%, he proceeded to cater to the radically intolerant whims of a minority of his supporters, laying the foundations for his ouster. I think I can get past the simple logic here without too much difficulty.

Christians have co-existed with Arabic majorities in any number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East for centuries. One by one, though, their ancient communities have been destroyed by Muslim intolerance and Western indifference. Iraq is a recent example. Syria seems to be going down that road as well. Is Egypt next?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fr. Houdini vanishes

The religious order that has staffed our parish church for more than a century recently pulled up stakes and left town. They sold off the monastery next door and informed the parish that, starting this summer, our spiritual needs would be tended by priests assigned by the Chicago Archdiocese.

It's a sad commentary on the state of vocations in this country that religious orders are no longer able to maintain parish churches, but it's the truth. And it's not as if the Archdiocese is teeming with priests that can fill the void. So it's a very unsettling time for all of us in the parish.

It's a particularly unhappy time for us in the Curmudgeon home because we've become very fond, over the years, of Fr. Ed, the departing pastor. I served with him on the parish school board many years ago and my wife and I worked with him on other parish projects; he married Younger Daughter and Olaf and he provided pre cana counseling for Oldest Son and Abby and Hank and Older Daughter, too. He's a prickly, stubborn German and he's always rubbed some people in the parish the wrong way but he's been here, as pastor, twice as acting pastor, or as associate pastor for close to 20 years. He's probably pushing 80 -- but, if he's taken to fibbing about his age, he truly does have the energy of a much younger man. And, like a much younger man, our pastor has not been wild about being put out to pasture.

There's been talk he'd be allowed to stay on as pastor emeritus but he seems to have pushed his superiors in his own religious order once too often for this to be graciously allowed. I hear he's looking for a job.

Meanwhile, we had a grand farewell luncheon a couple of weeks ago at a local banquet hall. Many of the priests who've served our parish came back for the Noon Mass on June 30. The principal celebrant was the local provincial of the order that's pulling out. Our local bishop showed up to thank the departing order for its service and to reassure us that we'd still like our parish next Sunday, too. Fr. Ed was there, of course, but he and the admitted octogenarian who's been helping out this past year were consigned to the opposite ends of the long line of priests who gathered on the altar for the Consecration. Fr. Ed was a little late getting in line; he was helping an older priest in a walker get up the altar stairs.

I noted, at the end of the Mass, as the priests processed out, Fr. Ed lingered on the altar, tidying up. I wondered if there weren't some purpose in his dawdling; perhaps he was showing one and all that he was determined to stay on?

Long Suffering Spouse and I went to that final Mass and to the luncheon as well. We wanted to talk to Fr. Ed -- maybe even ask about some of the rumors about whether he would, or would not, be able to stay around. But there were thousands of people and we were not pushy. We'd find out something eventually; in the meantime, did it really matter whether we wished him well in person?

This past weekend was the official beginning of our parish's full integration into the Archdiocese. My mother-in-law attended the anticipatory Mass on Saturday evening and called Long Suffering Spouse with a full -- and highly critical -- report about the new pastor. "He didn't know what he was doing," she said -- repeatedly -- "and everything was different."

Note to non-Catholics: You probably don't see why that's funny. Well, the truth is, there is very little room for variance in the Order of the Mass. On any given Sunday, the prayers are the same, the readings are the same, the responses are the same in our church and in every church the world over. Only the language in which the Mass is offered changes. Some priests fudge the Eucharistic Prayer, I'm told, probably more because, even with glasses, they can't read while looking down at the Missal on the altar (it changes somewhat Mass to Mass) than from any intentional departure from orthodoxy. Fr. Pfleger, down at St. Sabina's on Chicago's South Side, somehow manages to make his Masses into spectacles lasting several hours, but I assume all the stuff he adds, including all the speakers we see on the Sunday night news shows, are placed after Communion when it is customary to make [much shorter] announcements (I don't know this for a fact, though someday I'd be interested in seeing for myself). But the bottom line is that there's not room for a lot of variety, and things couldn't have been too different, despite my mother-in-law's high dudgeon Saturday night. ("We skipped the Creed," Abuela fumed also, but lots of priests will skip that depending on how long, or overlong, their sermon went. And there was apparently some confusion about returning the unused Hosts to the Tabernacle after Communion. "I don't know if I can continue going there if things are going to be so different," my mother-in-law said.)

Long Suffering Spouse did her best to reassure her mother that things would be better, but Abuela was in no mood to be comforted. Eventually, she tired of repeating how different things were, however, so my wife could terminate the phone call and we could resume watching the White Sox lose. Again.

I told you yesterday how I began my Sunday morning. But, despite that, Long Suffering Spouse and I were only about 10 minutes late for 7:00 a.m. Mass (which, for us, is not terrible). We were interested in seeing how the First-Sunday-Mass-of-the-Post-Fr.-Ed Era might be handled, especially after Abuela's preview. We walked in the back of the church and discovered that the First-Sunday-Mass-of-the-Post-Fr.-Ed Era was being presided over by... Fr. Ed.

"Perhaps this morning we can talk to him," I whispered to my wife as we took our accustomed pew. She nodded.

The early Sunday Mass is the least formal of the Sunday Masses -- the organist isn't even there yet -- but Fr. Ed likes to sing. And unlike the octogenarian who'd been assisting him this year, he always liked to process down the center aisle after Mass, out into the vestibule, and to the parking lot entrance, there to greet parishioners. The altar servers, of course, always hope for a 'side out' -- a short walk into the Sacristy, where they could peel out of their gowns and race home to breakfast that much faster. At the end of Mass the altar servers stood on either side of Fr. Ed as he faced the Tabernacle, singing the final hymn a capella, waiting for the final bow that would signal their release. Without missing a note, Fr. Ed tried to signal that they should lead the procession down the center aisle, but they hightailed it for the Sacristy without a backward glance. Undeterred, Fr. Ed, still singing, headed down the center aisle and toward the vestibule.

It is considered good form to wait, in these circumstances, until the priest actually passes you before leaving your pew -- anything else would be leaving early. Since we always arrive late, we try never to leave early. Still, we left as soon as propriety allowed, intending to follow Fr. Ed out and chat him up a bit.

We hit the vestibule at a good trot -- and couldn't see him. Instead, inside the door to the parking lot, stood the new curate, offering to shake hands with any who would pause. We both stopped to take the new man's hand and offer words of welcome. But I was looking over his shoulder for Fr. Ed, and darned if I couldn't see him.

Confused now, Long Suffering Spouse and I stepped out of the church and into the parking lot, only to see the new pastor, also shaking hands with anyone who would pause. We paused. He noted Long Suffering Spouse's White Sox hat. "I'm glad to see that there are Sox fans up here," he said (our parish being firmly on the Cubs side of town). "There aren't that many of us, Father," said Long Suffering Spouse. I was still looking for Fr. Ed. I even had on my glasses.

"He's Houdini," I told my wife as we got back in the car. "He simply vanished."

"I'm sorry we didn't get to see him," Long Suffering Spouse agreed, "but I'm sure this was planned. The new guys were waiting while Fr. Ed ducked out."

"But where?" I wondered.

Our best guess was that he dove into the Ushers' Room -- it doubles as the Bride's Room, when occasion demands. It would have been on his flight path. Still, it was a pretty good vanishing act -- and a pretty good way to *ahem* usher in The-Post-Fr.-Ed Era. Meanwhile I suppose we'll catch up to Fr. Ed... eventually.

One footnote: Youngest Son, of course, did not join us for 7:00 a.m. Mass. But he did make it to the 6:00 p.m. "Last Chance" Mass. Youngest Son reported that the 6:00 Mass was presided over by the new curate. It didn't strike him as all that "different"....

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

In which Curmudgeon doesn't kill the little dog Rodent and the entire family expresses surprise

I mentioned Saturday that Oldest Son and his wife Abby foisted their dog Rodent on us last Friday. They were going to drive south, you see, and see what they could see.

"Did you know there's a lot of pet-friendly hotels and motels along the Interstate these days?" I asked... or I started to: Long Suffering Spouse silenced me with a quick elbow.

"I hope you don't get too much rain," my wife warned. She'd seen a national weather map. There were flooding rains from the Florida Panhandle on north.

"We'll go around it," Oldest Son said, "and if we can't, we'll just come back home."

I silently resolved to do my Rain Dance just as soon as no one with elbows was looking.

Rodent likes our house -- as long as Cork (the Irish setter that Hank and Older Daughter own) isn't also visiting. When Rodent has the house to herself, there's more room for her to run around. She was running around now, this morning, clearly becoming increasingly confused: She couldn't find Younger Daughter.

Long Suffering Spouse is a soft touch, sure, but Younger Daughter is Rodent's special friend and protector. Rodent isn't too sure about how she likes having to share Younger Daughter with the Baby-to-be-named-later. She's shown some signs of jealousy. But now it was obvious watching her run and sniff and look -- she could smell Younger Daughter and the baby but she couldn't find them.

Long Suffering Spouse, of course, figured it out, too, probably before I did. When Rodent came within reach, my wife scooped her up and told her that Younger Daughter and her family were in Minnesota for the weekend. (I don't really think the dog understood, but you never know.) Meanwhile, Oldest Son busied himself, putting down the puppy pad in the bathroom off the new den and putting Rodent's dog food in the refrigerator. He grabbed the dog and walked her back to the bathroom, set her down on her pad and ordered her to do her duty. She did, and entirely on the pad, too.

"Good girl!" Long Suffering Spouse enthused, as Oldest Son showed her where he'd put the doggy treats.

Soon Oldest Son and Abby were back on the road. Rodent moped for awhile but then went outside with Long Suffering Spouse and actually ran around the backyard a bit. Yes, this behavior was almost truly canine -- Rodent has shown some other dog-like behaviors as well in the last year or so -- but she's still basically an unusually cuddly cat.

When the dog came, our long weekend changed. We'd been looking forward to real peace and quiet -- Youngest Son still had to get up and go up to Wisconsin -- but, when he left, but for the dog, we were going to be truly alone for the first time in over a year. You may not be able to understand unless you've lived through something similar, but there's something positively exhilarating about not having to wait for this one to come home or not having to worry about waking the baby when going up the stairs, or being able to put a movie or TV channel on without any fear of a kid coming in and wresting the remote control from your hands and putting something else on instead. We could eat when we were hungry, without catering to anyone else's schedule.

Or we could... but then we had the dog.

Long Suffering Spouse had errands to run... but there was the dog to consider. Do we need to lock her up? Should I stay home and watch it? We lost precious time considering these things.

On Thursday, Monday seemed so far away. By Sunday evening, when Olaf and Younger Daughter and the granddaughter returned and Oldest Son and Abby showed up to claim their dog, the weekend seemed to have vanished in a blink. Or, if we're being seasonal, in a fireworks burst.

In the City of Chicago, where I live, fireworks are absolutely and totally illegal. Even sparklers were supposedly banned at one point recently (you'll find conflicting information on this point if you search the Intertubes). The City ordinance, whatever it bans, doesn't stop our neighbors from stockpiling every conceivable type of ordnance. Shells of every kind, some of them as large as any launched during the official fireworks show at Navy Pier, are fired off constantly in our small corner of the city from shortly before sunset until the wee small hours of the morning. The air gets thick with smoke and stinks of sulfur.

By about 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, I was ready to wring the patriotic necks of all the idiots who were still launching missiles up and down our street and all the neighboring ones, too. Of course, I was also afraid to venture out of doors. (A woman at one Chicago park, who'd been part of a crowd that gathered to see their neighbors set off all their illegal fireworks, lost her foot when a rocket went straight at her instead of straight up into the sky.) Eventually, I chose sleep over confrontation: Rodent was coming over in a few hours whether I slept or not.

I mentioned the incessant barrage on Thursday night to lead you somewhat astray. You probably thought that after a pyrotechnic display such as I've described, the remainder of the weekend would be peaceful and quiet, eerily quiet, perhaps, once everyone's ears stopped ringing.

But, of course, that's simply not true.

Despite setting off explosives Thursday night as fast as they could light new matches, many of my neighbors had quite of bit of bombs left to detonate as Friday dawned.

As sunset neared on Friday night, the cacophony began anew. It may not have been as constant or intense, but it was still plenty loud to terrify the little dog. After whimpering a bit, she leapt up on Long Suffering Spouse's lap while my wife tried to comfort her. Another bang, though, and Rodent climbed up on my wife's neck.

I thought we might have gone out Friday night. But we couldn't possibly have gone anywhere under these circumstances.

It was decided that the dog would sleep in our room Friday night. By this I mean Long Suffering Spouse decided it, overruling any objections I cared to make. I didn't really protest too much: The dog would be frantic when some idiot decided to ring in the hour of 2:00 with his last rocket. We put the dog bed we'd acquired for her in our room; Rodent ignored it. She wandered around the room much of the night; we kept the door closed so she didn't wander anywhere else.

In the morning, I was gratified to see that Rodent had not left any trail markers in the course of her wanderings.

I probably relaxed a little.

I should never, ever relax.

Long Suffering Spouse and I did decide to use a little of our semi-freedom to go out and see a movie. (We gated the dog in the bathroom with her puppy pad.) And after the movie we even went out to the store to buy supplies for a project Youngest Son is working on -- and, of course, to buy a dog toy because Long Suffering Spouse felt bad about locking up the little dog -- even though Oldest Son and his wife leave Rodent locked up in close quarters for 10 or more hours a day while they're at work.

We turned our phones off in the theater, of course.

My wife's rang the moment she turned hers back on. It was Younger Daughter. "Did you talk to Older Daughter yet?" she asked. "No," said my wife. "Why?"

"She was worried sick about you," Younger Daughter said. "She tried your cell phone and then Dad's and there was no answer at the house and then she called me. I told her you were probably at a movie, but she was still worried." Younger Daughter paused. "Where were you, anyway?"

"At a movie," Long Suffering Spouse confirmed. My wife likes to use the phone on speaker, so I can hear and talk, too, if necessary.

"Which one?"

Long Suffering Spouse told her.

"I even guessed that right." Younger Daughter was obviously pleased with herself. "But, I have to warn you, the reason she was looking for you is that she and Hank are talking about coming up tonight. With Cork."

"No!" I shouted. "No way!"

"Your father says that that might not be a good idea," Long Suffering Spouse translated.

Apparently, Older Daughter and Hank had decided, without consulting us, to change their itinerary. They had been talking about coming up with their dog sometime this week, we'd been told, because they had the whole week off, but now they were going to start their vacation with us instead of stopping on their way back.

Most of the rest of Saturday afternoon and into the evening was spent negotiating with Older Daughter. Eventually she was persuaded not to come Saturday night. She was a little put out with me (and she never even heard me shouting), but I didn't want to have to deal with the two dogs in the house at the same time. It's bad enough at Thanksgiving or Christmas when we have lots of hands to hold this dog back, or that one, but now we would be seriously undermanned. (And in danger of being seriously overdogged.)

By Saturday night, the fireworks barrage was much more sporadic. Rodent still wound up wrapping herself around my wife's neck however. "I don't need a scarf in this weather," my wife admonished the little dog, but to no avail.

We decided to repeat the experiment of allowing the dog in our room again.

Sunday morning, I got up to answer Nature's Call and get ready for church just as on any other Sunday. I saw the little dog actually in the little dog bed provided and was happy. Rodent didn't seem anxious to go anywhere so I went about my business first. Long Suffering Spouse got up to take her shower while I was getting dressed. She got out of bed and headed for the door -- the dog, by the way, still in the little dog bed -- which was by the head of the bed on Long Suffering Spouse's side. But my wife did not make it all the way to the door. She stopped, pointing down at the floor.

"What's that?"

We have a dark and shabby rug in our room. It's a small room, with smaller closets. There is stuff piled up on the floor at all times. Dust bunnies and other fuzzies tend to proliferate in such close quarters. Even after my shower my eyes were still not all the way open. "I don't know," I harrumphed, "probably just a fuzzy." I bent down to pick it up. It might have been a dark fuzzy on our dark and shabby rug.

But it wasn't.

"Oh, for crying out loud," I said -- and Long Suffering Spouse, positioning herself between me and the dog, said, "Go wash your hands. I'll take care of this."

No wonder the dog was staying in her little doggy bed. She had littered the floor. How I'd not stepped in it, I'll never know.

We told this story to each of the kids -- and their respective significant others -- as they arrived home Sunday night. And the response -- Youngest Son's, Oldest Son's, Younger Daughter's -- was each time the same: "And the dog's still alive? Wow."

Such a reputation I have.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Everyone travels in Curmudgeon's family except Long Suffering Spouse and me

It's a holiday weekend and lots of people are traveling.

In our family, everyone (except Long Suffering Spouse and me) was out of state yesterday. Middle Son was finishing up a week in Michigan with his girlfriend Margaret... and her entire family. That sounds rather serious to me. He'll be back today... because he's supposed to stand up to a wedding. Symbolic? Perhaps....

Older Daughter and Hank go on vacation next week, not this week, so they were at home -- but they live in Indiana. (They'll probably wind up in Illinois -- and maybe in our house -- for part of their vacation. But that's next week's problem.)

Olaf had Thursday and Friday off, and he wanted to go to Minneapolis which, according to him, is for Norwegians like Miami is for Cubans. So he and Younger Daughter, the baby, and about 5,000 tons of equipment (99.99% of which was for the baby) drove to the Twin Cities to explore. Youngest Son went to a friend's summer home yesterday in Wisconsin.

And Oldest Son called his mother Thursday night and asked if we were going anywhere. Us? she asked. No, she said.

Oh, good, said Oldest Son. He and Abby had just decided to drive south for the weekend... maybe as far as Atlanta. "That sounds nice," said Long Suffering Spouse. "Can we bring our dog by around 6:30 Friday morning?" Oldest Son asked.

So yesterday, at some point, all our kids were in different states.

And we were -- are -- dog-sitting.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Woman marries bridge? I just can't keep up with these changing definitions of marriage

One half of the happy couple? The Le Pont du Diable Bridge.

Zay N. Smith's QT column today references a headline from the free British tabloid, Metro, "I pronounce you bridge and wife: Woman marries 600-year-old French bridge."

I looked the article up. Apparently there really was a ceremony in which Jodi Rose, an Australian artist, was 'married' to the Le Pont du Diable Bridge in Céret, in southern France.

This was evidently no spur of the moment decision. Ms. Rose has traveled the world since 2002 on bridge-related projects. First was Singing Bridges, "a conceptual sound work using the cables of bridges as musical instruments on a global scale." A CD was released in February 2005. And then came Global Bridge Symphony, "an ongoing project to link the sounds of bridges a round the world in collaboration with engineers, architects, software developers, composers, musicians, designers, visual and video artists." So Ms. Rose did not fall for the first bridge she had to cross.

But -- still -- it's hard not to see that there might be some obstacles to the union. There was the age difference, of course. The Le Pont du Diable Bridge dates to the 14th Century; I couldn't find her exact age online, but Ms. Rose is considerably younger. And Ms. Rose is human; the bridge is inanimate. Several of the articles I consulted said that Ms. Rose was a trifle vague as to how she determined the bridge's gender, but she says the bridge is male. However, even though France recently suffered a wave of protests because of same sex marriage legislation, gender in this case seems the least of the obstacles to a happy union. Consummation (no matter how devoutly wished) strikes me as a potentially bigger issue... and, for that matter, consent.

The bride and... groom?

Although there was no church wedding (bridges generally don't fit in even the largest churches, and a bridge whose name translates as the Devil's Bridge would probably be particularly opposed to a church ceremony, even if one could be arranged), the Mayor of nearby Saint-Jean-de-Fos was present to give his blessing to the union.

Anything for tourism, I suppose.

I guess, in the modern age, one can only hope the happy couple can, er, bridge their many differences.

Related: Jodi Rose bridges differences to marry Le Pont du Diable Bridge in France;
Woman marries bridge like that's a totally normal thing to do;
Rock-solid love: Australian woman marries a bridge in France - and even gets the mayor's blessing; and
Australian woman Jodi Rose marries a bridge in France - and even gets the mayor's blessing

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Have a Glorious Fourth -- but keep your fingers and toes intact

I've written about Long Suffering Spouse's younger sister, Josephine, from time to time, but I'm not certain I've mentioned my wife's older sister since 2006, in the very early days of this blog, when I reminisced about my honeymoon. No, my sister-in-law was not directly involved in my honeymoon -- obviously -- but my sister-in-law's wedding plans caused my bride and I to change our plans. You can read about it by following the link... but, for our purposes here suffice it to say we never made it to Cyprus.

Cyprus is where my sister-in-law's husband is from. Cyprus is where my sister-in-law married Dr. Nick.

I think of Dr. Nick (no, of course that's not his real name) around the 4th of July every year.

See, Dr. Nick was a plastic surgeon, specializing in the reconstruction of face and hands.

For Dr. Nick's business, the 4th of July was like Christmas for Santa's elves. We'd go to his enormous house in one of Chicago's poshest northwest suburbs every year around this time for our niece's birthday party. If Dr. Nick was ever there, it would not be for long. Many years he wasn't there at all. He was in surgery, trying to repair fireworks injuries.

Fireworks displays are an integral feature of the Fourth of July holiday, "illuminations" like those that John Adams said should be employed to forever commemorate "the Day of Deliverance."

But where is it written that fireworks should be set off mostly by idiots who have consumed copious quantities of liquor -- or by children who can barely light a match? Fireworks are explosives, darn it, and should be handled by people who have appropriate training -- and clear heads.

Dr. Nick retired some years back -- but his successors will be busy today and for the next several days trying to repair self-inflicted wounds.

Have a Glorious Fourth... but hold on to your fingers.